The Northern Way

The Saga of Illugi, Foster Son of Grid - Translation by Gavin Chappell

Chapter One

There was a king named Hring who ruled in Denmark. He was the son of Skjold Dagsson. This Skjold fought against Herman, as it says in their saga. King Hring was a wise and popular man; generous with his wealth and the greatest of warriors. He had a queen named Sigrid. She was the daughter of Vilhjalm, king of Gaul. They had a son named Sigurd. He was the most handsome of all men and best equipped for great achievements; cheerful with his friends, liberal with wealth, but fierce to his foes.

There was a farmer named Svidi. He had a farm a short way from the king's hall. His wife was named Hild. They had a son named Illugi, who was tall, strong, and deft at all games. His father was called Svidi the Valiant.

Prince Sigurd and Illugi played games together. Sigurd had many playmates, and all of them did their duty to him, but Illugi was best of all. It happened that they swore fellowship, and said that each would avenge the other, if he were slain with weapons. There was now much affection between them.

Chapter Two

There was a man named Bjorn. He was the king's adviser. He always gave bad advice, and he was very free-willed. He was a liar and cunning in all things, except in witchcraft, but he was the greatest of warriors and guarded the king's land from vikings, so the king rated him highly. Bjorn greatly grudged the fact that Illugi was so dear to Prince Sigurd, and he slandered him to the father and son, saying that Illugi was false to the prince. The king listened to this, but Sigurd did not believe it. It went that way for some time, while Prince Sigurd stayed at home with his father in great joy and honour.

One day Sigurd asked his father to give him ships and men, and said he would set sail to acquire fame and fortune for himself. The king said that he would do so, given a month's notice, 'and Bjorn shall travel with you,' said the king, 'but Illugi will stay at home.' Sigurd replied: 'To be sure, I will travel with Illugi.' But the king said that Bjorn would accompany him, 'because he is a great warrior and has never given way to adversity. He will be loyal and faithful to you, as he has been to me,' said the king, and they parted from their discussion.

After that the Prince went to Svidi's and told Hild of his discussion with his father. She said her son was young, and might not do well in battle. 'He is untested,' she said, 'I do not wish him to contest with Bjorn, because he might not beat him in battle.' Hild said this, but the Prince went home to the hall afterwards, very unhappy.

There was a bondwoman with Hild, named Sunnlod. She was skilled in magic and the wickedest of witches. She had worked evil for many men. Hild went to speak with Illugi, and told him to find the hoe that Svidi had left in the shieling-shed. He said he would do so. It was late in the day when Illugi left home. He travelled hard, came to the shed, and found the hoe. It was the dark of night, but he left nevertheless, but as he was returning home, something leapt upon his back so hard, following at his heels and coming foremost upon his breast. The creature had a switch in its hand and it used this to fight Illugi. It was Sunnlod. Illugi escaped that loathsome witch, and found a big stone. He struck the witch with the stone so hard that he broke her spine, and she died there. He did not halt in his journey until he came home.

Hild, his mother, was outside when he came home. Illugi frowned. Hild was happy. 'Has something annoyed you during your journey, my son?' she said. 'Did you find the hoe, that I sent you to look for?' 'Yes,' said Illugi. She said 'Did you meet my maid, who I sent to get firewood?' Illugi said 'I hardly think you'll find your maid; she rode me, but I killed her for her viciousness, and broke her spine with a stone.' Hild replied that he was capable of succeeding in an errand, 'and I wish,' said she, 'that you attend Prince Sigurd and follow him on his viking expedition.'

Illugi agreed to this gladly and happily, and went in with his mother in the calm of night. Next morning Illugi prepared to travel to the king's hall. He talked with his father and mother, then walked to the hall and reached it when the king was having his morning-drink. He went up to the king, and hailed him. The king took this well. But when Prince Sigurd saw Illugi, he rejoiced eagerly and asked him to sit beside him. Illugi did so. Sigurd travelled for a few days before coming home with his father and Illugi.

Chapter Three

Now came the time when Sigurd was ready to set forth and sail out from land. Both Bjorn and Illugi agreed that they should travel. Now the Prince took leave of his father, and sailed to the Orkneys and Scotland and attacked both; many descended to fight him, but he won a great victory over the Scots, and took plunder. Despite the multitude who attacked, they failed to achieve victory, and then all folk were afraid of him.

That autumn Sigurd wanted to sail home, but then a great storm rose. They went aboard the ships, but headed north into the ocean. They sailed hard, and the wind billowed in the reef sails. They saw land nowhere. The sea now grew turbulent, and the waves grew so big that they reached the castles on either ends of the ship, but everyone in the ship was so valiant that no one spoke a despairing word. The ship began to leak severely, and they floated eastward for eight days. The ship was driven north a long way across the ocean, and into that bay named the Bay of Sorcery. The sail strained hard with strong bands and grasped now a great heavy wave, so to prepare was against of break ship. Their exhaustion was great. Then they saw land, which was a stroke of fortune. After that, the ship entered a bay. They remained in one piece, ship and men.

The Prince decided that they should wait there for a fair wind. His men were greatly exhausted from their hardship, and so cold that they thought death was certainly at hand, because they had no fire. Prince Sigurd bore these forebodings well, but all were willing to obtain fire and take possession as well. Bjorn was very cold, and he said; 'You, Illugi,' said he, 'must row across this firth and look for fire, and if you do not find it, then it will prove that I am the better adviser. But if you obtain fire, then I will give you the ring that I hold here.' Illugi replied 'I do not wish to wager my head against yours, Bjorn, but I shall willingly seek fire, if it be of use to weary men.' Then he rowed quickly away from his men.

Chapter Four

There were caves beside this main firth, and here a trollwife named Grid ruled. She was the wickedest of witches. Illugi landed, anchored his boat, and came ashore to reach a cave as dusk fell. Then he heard heavy footsteps, and Grid came home. She asked him his name. He said that he was named Illugi, but he thought that a snowstorm or tempest blew within her nose.

Snot hung above her mouth, she had a beard and she was bald. Her hand was like an eagle's claw, and her sleeves both burned, and the cape that she wore went no further than her rump, and was scanty all over. Her eyes were green, her forehead straight, and her ears rose like a mast. You could not call her fair. Illugi said he sought fire from her. Grid replied; 'You will get no fire from me, unless you say three truthful words and say them fast. Then you will lie with my daughter, and if you will not try that, then I do not care, although Bjorn will say that you are dead.' Illugi said that he would do so. Then a woman entered. She was so beautiful that Illugi thought he had never seen one so fair. When he saw her, he fell deeply in love with her. She was silent and chary of words.

Illugi spoke. 'I must say,' said he, 'three truthful words: Your cave is high and broad, and I have not seen a house bigger or stronger. Your nose is huge, and I have not see a greater monster than you, or one as dark, but your hall here is fair. Never have I seen anyone more unmannerly than you, but your daughter is fair, and never have I seen one fairer, and that is all I have to say, concerning what I see of your possessions.' Grid said then; 'I do not want,' she said, 'you to praise me, or wish me luck, but I do not wish you ill as you think. Now I suggest that you to go to bed with my daughter, and do all that you wish, since you prefer my daughter to me. Now we must go quickly,' said Grid, 'and it is not long till daybreak.' Illugi said he would do so.

He went to bed and took off his clothes, and the woman sent her daughter to attend on him. They went to bed together. Illugi slept with her and was happy, but she did not become joyous herself. Then Grid seized Illugi by the hair and bound him to a chair-post, and with her other hand she brought her bright knife down most bitterly and angrily at his head, but Illugi lay quiet and unafraid. Grid then said very wrathfully; 'Listen, evil wretch, why do you think that I would suffer you to seduce my daughter? No,' she said, 'you shall endure death instead.' Illugi said then, 'My heart does not heave at your words, because if I came into your cave, then fate intended it. Yet no man dies more than once, so I am not afraid of your threats.'

At these words, Grid cast him away. He escaped from her chair-post and was very glad. But then when he was happy, Grid wove his hair about her hands, pulled him onto the post and swung her knife at his head. 'You are daring, but now instead you shall take death.' But Illugi said that he was not afraid of death. She said then laughing; "Never have I met anyone who did not fear death, except you. Go to sleep now, and sleep well!' Illugi went and slept with his woman and now she was happy. Then Grid went to the bed and bound him to the post. Now she raised her knife, and did much that was unwelcome to see, but all went as before, that Illugi said he was not afraid.

Then Grid said: 'You are not like other men, your sinews do not shake, and you fear nothing. I shall let you live, and with that I give you my daughter, who is named Hild. I shall not conceal your benefit, since you have had from me from great lawlessness, and risked much since I have murdered and killed many, and all have been afraid to meet my terrible knife. I have killed sixteen brave men with this knife, and it was not women's work. Now shall I tell you the story of my life, and you must listen:

Chapter Five

'There was a king named Ali who ruled Alfheim. He had a queen named Alfrun. They had a daughter named Signy, who was skilful in all things. As soon as Signy was old enough, she was married to the king named Eirek. He fell on a raid in the west. They had a daughter named Hild, and she was the most beautiful of maidens. Then Signy went to her father's and stayed with him. The queen grew sick and died, and the king was wretched at this, but Signy stayed in her bower and felt great sorrow for her father and mother. Then the king married a woman named Grimhild. She was fair to look at, but secretly she was the wickedest of witches. The king loved her greatly. She had her own daughters who were all like their mother, and were also the wickedest of witches. Rumour abounded in the kingdom with the coming of Grimhild, and when a man went missing one night, all thought that Grimhild was responsible.

The king now began to grow old, and the queen called to mind concubinage if she wished. She decided to poison the king and rule by herself while still young. She gave him poison to drink, and it was his death, and she buried him in a howe. Grimhild now acted so wickedly that she lay waste the entire kingdom of both men and wealth. After this deed, Grimhild decided to go where Signy sat with her daughter, but when she came there, she spoke to her thus: 'You, Signy,' she said, 'have long sat in great happiness, but I shall take all that from you. I lay this upon you, that you will go into exile and live in a cave and become the wickedest of witches. You shall be named Grid. Your daughter will go with you, and all men who see her shall fall deeply in love with her. You shall murder them each in her bed. Seven sisters will fight with you every night. They will all tear you apart, hew and maim you, but you will be old before you die, and you will be old before you are freed from this spell, unless you find a man who is not afraid when you raise your terrible knife. But those who flee when that terrible blade is revealed must not live.'

Signy did not speak for grief or weeping. Hild said then: 'I wish, Grimhild, to hide from your harassment, and that I say about others who must endure you in this shame, but others who live in the king's hall. Slaves there shall kindle a fire between your feet. That fire will blaze both night and day, and you shall burn on one side, but freeze on the other side, that fire will give you no rest. But if we two escape from this spell, then you will die and fall into the fire.' Then Grimhild took to speech. 'Your speech is very foolish, and I hope that neither of us are held to it." Hild said that it would be worth the wait. Then they went to live in this cave, and I am the same Signy, and here is Hild, my daughter, and I will now give her away in marriage to you her and reward you so, because you have set me free from this spell."

And when this had been said, seven giantesses entered the cave with sharp short-swords, leapt at Grid, and hewed at her both in her heart and in her body. Hild was now exceedingly afraid. Illugi gave Grid help and defended both heart and body, and he did not cease until he had killed all of them, and burned them all in the fire.

Then Grid said "Now have you, Illugi, freed us from these giantesses, and I have been plagued with them eleven winters.' Illugi said that it had been long enough.

Chapter Six

After that Grid followed them to Illugi's boat, she gave them gold and many precious treasures, and now he had fire with him, and she left them. Illugi rowed to his men. They were glad and cheerful to get warm. The Prince lay by the shore for a month, and never got a fair wind. Bjorn knew about Hild and said that Illugi had contracted an illness in the cave, and that she seemed the wickedest of witches. Sigurd told Bjorn to be silent, and said that what he said was untrue. One night when the prince's men slept in the ships, they awoke to see that Bjorn had vanished, and they searched and looked about the sides, but found him hanged from the mast. They had seen nothing come to kill Bjorn, but Grid had hanged Bjorn in the night because he had called Hild a trollwife.

After that, Sigurd sailed to Finnmark, where he got a fair breeze, and he came home to Denmark with much booty and distributed gold with both hands. He went home with his father. Illugi stayed with Sigurd a long time, and he had a great bridge built near the king's hall. A little later then King Hring grew sick, and it led to his death. Sigurd held a funeral feast for his father and invited all the best men in land, and then Sigurd took over the kingdom his father had ruled. King Hring had been a folk-king in Denmark, and he had ruled over Skane.

Signy came to Denmark, and Illugi received her well, and so did Hild. Illugi said that all knew about her. King Sigurd asked for her hand. Signy said that Illugi should give her away in marriage. Sigurd spoke with him, and accordingly, Illugi gave him Signy. They were happy together, and they had many children, who were all well-mannered men. King Sigurd and Queen Signy lived very long, but Illugi lived longer, although he did not have any children with Hild. This Illugi was the foster brother of Gnodar-Asmund.

And here we end this saga.

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